I have a confession to make. I met my best flying friend online. Our wives refer to each of us as finding each other on an airplane dating site, but regardless of how we met, we have shared many memories together over the years.
I have lost track of who contacted who, , but after the first phone call and subsequent flight in Jim’s dad’s restored 1959 Cessna 150 that he somehow managed to borrow during the winter months, we knew that each of us had found a friend for life. Over the past couple of years, Jim and I have shared many flying adventures, almost all of which we have been late for. We are often referred to as “The most inefficient flight crew ever to walk the earth.” Although condescending perhaps to some, it is a label we both wear with pride! There is something about being at an airport and around airplanes that seems to make time stand still.
Jim is on active duty with the United States Army, and somehow before his latest deployment I found a great Piper PA28-180 the owner needed to sell. He had been looking for an airplane ever since we met, and before I knew it he had purchased N7783N.
The irony is that Jim bought the airplane in June and deployed for a yearlong tour in Iraq six weeks later! During his time before he deployed, he told me that he wanted to take a long trip in his new airplane to really get some hard performance numbers. We hashed out places to go and things to do, but nothing seemed to fit.
We tossed around the idea of picking a cardinal direction and just flying to see what we could find, but in all honesty, when 100LL is $5.50 a gallon, it didn’t seem to make sense.
It had been a while since I had the time to fly a mission for Angel Flight / Grace Flight, and I suggested that we bid on a mission that afforded us some good cross country time, an opportunity to get the performance data, and most of all a change of scenery. Jim jumped on the idea and has always wanted to experience what Angel Flight / Grace Flight entails, as he is approaching the minimum time required to bid as a Mission Pilot. After getting our schedules worked out, the trip was planned and we were heading to Addison Airport in the Dallas/Ft. Worth metroplex. Our mission was to deliver our passenger, Ron, to San Antonio for his weekly cancer treatment. This is a trip that he has to make weekly for four months straight. It still amazes me the resolve and obstacles that people in Ron’s situation must face every day.
On the day of our trip, we had planned on meeting at the airport an hour and a half before our planned departure time to clean the airplane and compare our notes on the flight, and get a final weather briefing. We met at the airport in the pre-dawn hours to find a relatively cool morning, cloudless and windless skies, and the world still at sun rise. If you haven’t guessed, we had missed our planned departure by fifteen to twenty minutes. I still don’t know what we do to take so long when it comes to aircraft!
The airplane flew faster than planned, and we made our arrival time into Addison on schedule. Once at the FBO, they brought out the red carpet for our little single engine bird, despite us trying to tell the line guys that we didn’t need all of that fanfare. We both fly out of a non-towered private airstrip that is nothing like the busy airspace we were in, although we both have lots of experience flying in some of the most congested airspace in the country.
While I am the first person to hold onto my wallet, I do understand that my money and patronage is what keeps aviation business alive. I don’t mind paying ramp fees as long as they are reasonable (although I would prefer there was not a need for these type of fees). With that being said, the people at Landmark Aviation refused to take my money even though we didn’t need fuel because I had called prior to the flight and explained we would be picking Ron up for Angel Flight.
Upon meeting Ron for the first time, we discovered that he had never flown in a GA aircraft before. He didn’t appear nervous and was very excited and friendly. As I conducted our safety briefing, Jim conducted the preflight. We got Ron situated in the airplane and after a brief taxi were airborne toward San Antonio.
Jim and I had taken bets on how the Regional Approach Controllers would handle us to keep us clear of the major airports we would need to overfly to get to where we could head south. We were both pleasantly surprised when, as soon as we reached 2500 feet, we flew straight over Love Field and straight toward San Antonio with an on course heading!
Once at altitude we continued to compare the performance we saw from the initial leg to the book figures published in the POH; I must say we were both pleasantly surprised, as his new airplane was a strong performer for an old fixed gear single! The trip was uneventful with smooth clear skies dominating the route of flight. It was one of those days in which you truly feel lucky to experience the joys of flight through general aviation. The ride was smooth, the visibility unrestricted, and despite being in central Texas, the temperature was even bearable! We chatted with Ron and discussed the benefits of General Aviation as the scenery rolled past. We learned about his valiant battle with cancer, his wonderful family, and shared stories about our own children.
Our arrival into San Antonio was rather uneventful with the TRACON controllers handling the GA traffic superbly as usual. Once at the FBO, they again refused to accept any ramp fees despite our little airplane being the smallest thing on their ramp. It was funny seeing the little Piper holding its own among the company of the larger business jets and turboprops. Ron was so excited that he was able to have someone to talk to on the way to San Antonio and told us that his total travel time for our trip was almost an hour and a half shorter than what it would have taken him to fly commercially and it was a much easier trip. I guess the old attaché about the tortoise and the hare stands true, and while it may not work all of the time, for this particular flight, general aviation came out ahead.
Ron made the call for his ground transportation and we readied for the short hop back home. Looking at our watches we were both impressed that we had actually not only delivered Ron on schedule but fifteen minutes ahead of schedule! We had also accomplished our goal to find out what the capabilities of Jim’s new airplane truly were. Needless to say, Jim was very pleased with the capabilities of his “new” 42 year old plane. After a quick flight back to our home base, the airplane was cleaned up, phone calls made to our respective wives notifying them we’d “be a little late.” There was an uncommon silence as we finished cleaning up and pushed Jim’s new machine into the hangar.
This was not the first, nor will it be the last Grace Flight mission I have flown. I truly enjoy each and every one, as getting to meet new people and show them what general aviation is capable of is something that I enjoy tremendously. I must say this was truly one of the best flying experiences that I have been a part of. Not only was I able to fly with a great friend and show someone the joys and benefits of GA flying, but I was able to serve a purpose. Jim said it best when he told me, “I have always been looking for something I enjoy doing that will also help the greater good – Grace Flight is definitely that something.”
I must say Jim, you have found that something. I will see you when you get back and am looking forward to our next adventure.